While I have already weighed-in on what I think Apple is going to announce at this year's MacWorld Expo, there is "one more thing" that I've been thinking about that I want to weigh in on.
It seems like the rumors leading up to Tuesday's big MWSF Keynote are going completely wild. I think there are several things contributing to this year's wild rumor season. The first is the switch to Intel, and all of Intel's announcements at CES this week. The second major contributor is the amazing year that Apple had in 2005. Apple is in such a strong position now, that everybody is paying attention and focusing on what they are doing. The third appears to be last year's announcement of Front Row, which is making people think that Apple is going to have a "living room strategy" in 2006.
And these days, when most people think living room, they think Digital Video Recorder (DVR - like Tivo). But based upon all of the news reports that I have been reading, and my intuition for what Apple is thinking, I don't think that Apple is going to release a DVR in 2006. I don't think that Apple is ever going to make a DVR, in fact.
There are a lot of problems with DVRs. A lot of the technologies and ideas involved in a modern DVR are patent-encumbered, by Tivo and others. There are also technologogical problems, when doing HD, removing commercials, and encoding content so that it can go to portable devices. Next, the whole DVR thing is basically a giant hack -- attempting to brdige an analog mdedium (TV) into the digital world. Things like channel guides and automatic commercial detection can never be made perfect, due to how the analog and digital worlds interact. Finally, there is the fact that the TV networks and advertisers don't like DVRs, because it totally screws with their model.
Which is why Apple's new video downloads through iTunes look so good. Having consumers directly pay for content represents a new model, and it represents a much cleaner solution technically than DVRs. All Apple has to do is make a device (the Mac mini, perhaps), that can automatically download episodes of TV from iTunes (like a podcast), and provide a friendly interface for the users to view the content on their TV (Front Row).
The only challenges that Apple is going to have to overcome is bandwidth (providing TV-quality or even HD-quality downloads is going to suck a lot of juice) and cost. I say cost, because the currently $2/episode cost is way too expensive, when I compare with what I am paying per month for all-you-can-eat cable. Doing some napkin math, there are around 24 episodes of a show in a particular season. Downloading all of those through iTunes, that would cost $48. That's about what my cable bill is every month. So, for light-to-moderate TV viewers, iTunes is a huge win -- if you watch less than 12 shows, you are going to save money. If you are a heavy TV viewer, however, cable is (unfortunately) going to be cheaper. I just did the math, it it looks like I'm watching around 11 shows, plus news and sports. So, I'm right on the border line.
But I think that this is solvable -- Apple can simply offer a discount if you sign up for an entire season (like the difference between buying individual songs and an entire album on iTMS).
But don't take my word for it -- Ken Fisher over at Ars Technica has said pretty much the same thing. For further evidence, I am going to cite a Wall Street Journal article that I read the other day: "'Media Center' Puts Microsoft Ahead of Rivals". The article is heavily biased towards the Microsoft Media Center, but it has this great quote:
"At Microsoft, Front Row is already causing ripples: Mr. Gates in an email to Mr. Belfiore asked why Apple's remote control had just six buttons. The standard Media Center remote from Microsoft has 39 buttons. (Mr. Belfiore's explanation: Front Row computers don't have TV or digital video recorder functions and thus don't need as many buttons.)"
Of course Apple doesn't have DVR functionality -- they don't need it! And as a result, they don't need all of those buttons either. I think that Apple will stay with the iMac remote for their new media center, especially since Steve Jobs made such a point of comparing the simplicity of the Apple remote to the complexity of the Microsoft remote.
I can't wait until Tuesday.